Roles And Challenges Of Online Media In A Developing Democracy By Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola

The Gazelle News crew: L-R: Timothy Agbor, Idris Alooma Oseni, Managing Editor, The Gazelle, Jamiu Ademola Yisa (JAY), State of Osun Deputy Governor, Mrs Titi Laoye Tomori, Publisher/Editor-in-chief, The Gazelle, Musbau Rasak and Jumuah Abiodun.




I feel very honoured to be invited to this anniversary lecture and awards ceremony to give a brief address. I want to thank the organisers, TGN Media Network, for the invitation and I also congratulate them on this happy anniversary occasion.

The theme of this lecture is particularly interesting and topical. ‘The Roles and Challenges of Online Media in a Developing Democracy’ is a most germane issue to our own environment. In any modern democracy, besides the Judiciary which is widely regarded as the last hope of the common man, the media are an influential defender of every man and woman, whether they are common or not.

What we know generally as the media today began from news which, according to Wikipedia, ‘is the communication of selected information on current events’. News in this sense has always been in existence and has been part of human affairs from time immemorial.

What however has been changing in significant ways are its modes of dissemination, which have evolved over several centuries from words of mouth, to letters, official bulletins and couriers. In ancient Egypt (2400 BC), couriers were employed by the Pharaohs to communicate their decrees throughout their empire’s vast territory. The Romans in 1st Century BC pasted their Acta Diurna, or ‘Daily Events’, in a large public space called the Forum. Since the second and third centuries AD, the Chinese have been known to circulate news bulletins among court officials on paper called tipao.

The development of the printing press in 1450 by Johannes Gutenberg was a game changer for news dissemination. Then came print journalism and later electronic journalism. The electronic broadcast media also witnessed another watershed with the birth of satellite television which brought real time news and events into people’s sitting rooms all over the world.

We are now in the era of the New Media, which is another ground-breaking development in the evolution of the news media. Simply put, the New Media are a product of information and communications technology (ICT).

The advent of the Internet has also brought to bear a revolution on media practice. One crucial significance of all these developments in news dissemination is the increasing access to information granted to the people and the concomitant power and influence this has occasioned for news media organisations.

Here lies food for thought for all of us both within and outside the media. Here I refer to the age-old question of power and responsibility. The media have come to exert powerful influence on the social and political development of human societies, especially democratic ones.

Thus, the traditional role of the media, which includes informing, educating, and enlightening the people, has acquired greater salience. In a developing democracy like ours, the media have been critical agents of the people’s struggle for political and economic freedom.

This was particularly the case during the era of military dictatorship in the country when the media were in the vanguard of the push for a return to democratic governance. However, part of the challenges facing the media is the failure to continue to maintain the same level of watchfulness over the progress of our democracy.

After all, we have been reminded that constant vigilance is a crucial factor in ensuring liberty. This is important because democracy, as we are increasingly witnessing in our country, is also subject to the same level of abuses that occur in other forms of government.  It is not without reason that Reinhold Niebuhr made the insightful remark that: ‘Man’s capacity for justice makes democracy possible, but man’s inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary’.

On a final note, I would like to leave us all with the following observation by made by Wendell Phillips in a speech he delivered on January 28, 1852 before members of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society. According to him:
‘Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty; power is ever stealing from the many to the few. The manna of popular liberty must be gathered each day or it is rotten. The living sap of today outgrows the dead rind of yesterday … Only by continued oversight can the democrat in office be prevented from hardening into a despot; only by unintermitted agitation can a people be sufficiently awake to principle not to let liberty be smothered in material prosperity’.

The Internet has its own advantage and it is the fastest and cheapest means to get information to the widest audience. The sheer volume of information available on the Internet today would have been unthinkable 30 years ago. It is possible now to get real education on the Internet and as time goes on, schooling is going to be redefined by online access. Transparency and accountability have been forced on governments through the Internet and dictatorships have been brought to their knees through the online medium. With the Internet, George Orwell’s ‘Big Brother’ has been reversed, with the people, actually putting surveillance on government and scrutinising every one of its move, passing judgement on it and exerting subtle power and influence on it every moment.

In spite of its growing popularity, there is still limited access. One will still need a computer device or at least a mobile telephone to access the Internet. One will also need subscription with a service provider. The biggest threat is that it is subject to government’s control. A dictatorial government can easily shut down internet services.

However, online media offer a unique challenge. Although every person that gets on the internet leaves a digital footprint, for the average user, the internet still looks so anonymous. Therefore, slander, blackmail, character assassination, dissemination of falsehood and other reprehensible acts, which would ordinarily attract severe censorship on the print and electronic media are fair game on the internet. For this reason, they tend to confuse, misinform and do the exact opposite of what constitutes the social responsibility of the media. For now, the seeming lawlessness on the Internet is a big minus, in spite of its unquantifiable advantages.

This problem, surprisingly, is not as serious in the developed world as it is here. Arrests have been made, fines have been imposed and jail sentences have been handed down for tweets, comments on Facebook and blogs and general information on websites. Although there are still abuses, there are strident attempts to impose responsibility. We can learn from this too.

We have access now; the next stage should be about responsibility even as we seek to push the internet into the remotest places in our states and communities so that every person will benefit from the digital revolution.

Once more, I thank the TGN Media Network for inviting me.

And I thank the audience for their inspiring attention.

Ogbeni Rauf Adesoji Aregbesola, Governor, State of Osun, delivered this Keynote Address at‘s First Anniversary Public Lecture/Gala Night at De Renaissance Hotel, Alausa, Ikeja.

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